"You will not do so, dread master?" rejoined Fenwolf, trembling and turning pale. "She belongs to me."
"To thee, fool!" cried Herne, with a derisive laugh. "Thinkest thou I would resign such a treasure to thee? No, no. But rest easy, I will not give her to Wyat."
"You mean her for yourself, then?" said Fenwolf.
"Darest thou to question me?" cried Herne, striking him with the hand armed with the iron gyves. "This to teach thee respect."
And this to prove whether thou art mortal or rejoined Fenwolf, plucking his hunting-knife from his belt, and striking it with all his force against the other's breast. But though surely and forcibly dealt, the blow glanced off as if the demon were cased in steel, and the intended assassin fell back in amazement, while an unearthly laugh rang in his ears. Never had Fenwolf seen Herne wear so formidable a look as he at that moment assumed. His giant frame dilated, his eyes flashed fire, and the expression of his countenance was so fearful that Fenwolf shielded his eyes with his hands.
"Ah, miserable dog!" thundered Herne; "dost thou think I am to be hurt by mortal hands, or mortal weapons? Thy former experience should have taught thee differently. But since thou hast provoked it, take thy fate!"
Uttering these words, he seized Fenwolf by the throat, clutching him with a terrific gripe, and in a few seconds the miserable wretch would have paid the penalty of his rashness, if a person had not at the moment appeared at the doorway. Flinging his prey hastily backwards, Herne turned at the interruption, and perceived old Tristram Lyndwood, who looked appalled at what he beheld.
"Ah, it is thou, Tristram?" cried Herne; "thou art just in time to witness the punishment of this rebellious hound."
"Spare him, dread master! oh, spare him!" cried Tristram imploringly.
"Well," said Herne, gazing at the half-strangled caitiff, "he may live. He will not offend again. But why hast thou ventured from thy hiding-place, Tristram?"
"I came to inform you that I have just observed a person row across the lake in the skiff," replied the old man. "He appears to be taking the direction of the secret entrance to the cave."
"It is Sir Thomas Wyat," replied Herne, "I am aware of his proceedings. Stay with Fenwolf till he is able to move, and then proceed with him to the cave. But mark me, no violence must be done to Wyat if you find him there. Any neglect of my orders in this respect will be followed by severe punishment. I shall be at the cave ere long; but, meanwhile, I have other business to transact."
And quitting the hut, he plunged into the wood.
Meanwhile, Sir Thomas Wyat, having crossed the lake, landed, and fastened the skiff to a tree, struck into the wood, and presently reached the open space in which lay the secret entrance to the cave. He was not long in finding the stone, though it was so artfully concealed by the brushwood that it would have escaped any uninstructed eye, and removing it, the narrow entrance to the cave was revealed.
Committing himself to the protection of Heaven, Wyat entered, and having taken the precaution of drawing the stone after him, which was easily accomplished by a handle fixed to the inner side of it, he commenced the descent. At first, he had to creep along, but the passage gradually got higher, until at length, on reaching the level ground, he was able to stand upright. There was no light to guide him, but by feeling against the sides of the passage, he found that he was in the long gallery he had formerly threaded. Uncertain which way to turn, he determined to trust to chance for taking the right direction, and drawing his sword, proceeded slowly to the right.
For some time he encountered no obstacle, neither could he detect the slightest sound, but he perceived that the atmosphere grew damp, and that the sides of the passage were covered with moisture. Thus warned, he proceeded with great caution, and presently found, after emerging into a more open space, and striking off on the left, that he had arrived at the edge of the pool of water which he knew lay at the end of the large cavern.
While considering how he should next proceed, a faint gleam of light became visible at the upper end of the vault. Changing his position, for the pillars prevented him from seeing the source of the glimmer, he discovered that it issued from a lamp borne by a female hand, who he had no doubt was Mabel. On making this discovery, he sprang forwards, and called to her, but instantly repented his rashness, for as he uttered the cry the light was extinguished.
Wyat was now completely at a loss how to proceed. He was satisfied that Mabel was in the vault; but in what way to guide himself to her retreat he could not tell, and it was evident she herself would not assist him. Persuaded, however, if he could but make himself known, he should no longer be shunned, he entered one of the lateral passages, and ever and anon, as he proceeded, repeated Mabel's name in a low, soft tone. The stratagem was successful. Presently he heard a light footstep approaching him, and a gentle voice inquired—"Who calls me?"
"A friend," replied Wyat.
"Your name?" she demanded.
"You will not know me if I declare myself, Mabel," he replied, "but I am called Sir Thomas Wyat."
"The name is well known to me," she replied, in trembling tones; "and I have seen you once—at my grandfather's cottage. But why have you come here? Do you know where you are?
"I know that I am in the cave of Herne the Hunter," replied Wyat; "and one of my motives for seeking it was to set you free. But there is nothing to prevent your flight now."
"Alas! there is," she replied. "I am chained here by bonds I cannot break. Herne has declared that any attempt at escape on my part shall be followed by the death of my grandsire. And he does not threaten idly, as no doubt you know. Besides, the most terrible vengeance would fall on my own head. No,—I cannot—dare not fly. But let us not talk in the dark. Come with me to procure a light. Give me your hand, and I will lead you to my cell."
Taking the small, trembling hand offered him, Wyat followed his conductress down the passage. A few steps brought them to a door, which she pushed aside, and disclosed a small chamber, hewn out of the rock, in a recess of which a lamp was burning. Lighting the lamp which she had recently extinguished, she placed it on a rude table.
"Have you been long a prisoner here?" asked Wyat, fixing his regards upon her countenance, which, though it had lost somewhat of its bloom, had gained much in interest and beauty.
"For three months, I suppose," she replied; "but I am not able to calculate the lapse of time. It has seemed very—very long. Oh that I could behold the sun again, and breathe the fresh, pure air!
"Come with me, and you shall do so," rejoined Wyat.
"I have told you I cannot fly," she answered. "I cannot sacrifice my grandsire."
"But if he is leagued with this demon he deserves the worst fate that can befall him," said Wyat. "You should think only of your own safety. What can be the motive of your detention?"
"I tremble to think of it," she replied; "but I fear that Herne has conceived a passion for me."
"Then indeed you must fly," cried Wyat; "such unhallowed love will tend to perdition of soul and body."
"Oh that there was any hope for me!" she ejaculated.
"There is hope," replied Wyat. "I will protect you—will care for you—will love you."
"Love me!" exclaimed Mabel, a deep blush overspreading her pale features. "You love another."
"Absence has enabled me to overcome the vehemence of my passion," replied Wyat, "and I feel that my heart is susceptible of new emotions. But you, maiden," he added coldly, "you are captivated by the admiration of the king."
"My love, like yours, is past," she answered, with a faint smile; "but if I were out of Herne's power I feel that I could love again, and far more deeply than I loved before—for that, in fact, was rather the result of vanity than of real regard."
"Mabel," said Wyat, taking her hand, and gazing into her eyes, "if I set you free, will you love me?"
"I love you already," she replied; "but if that could be, my whole life should be devoted to you. Ha!" she exclaimed with a sudden change of tone, "footsteps are approaching; it is Fenwolf. Hide yourself within that recess."
Though doubting the prudence of the course, Wyat yielded to her terrified and imploring looks, and concealed himself in the manner she had indicated. He was scarcely ensconed in the recess, when the door opened, and Morgan Fenwolf stepped in, followed by her grandfather. Fenwolf gazed suspiciously round the little chamber, and then glanced significantly at old Tristram, but he made no remark.
"What brings you here?" demanded Mabel tremblingly.
"You are wanted in the cave," said Fenwolf.
"I will follow you anon," she replied.
"You must come at once," rejoined Fenwolf authoritatively. "Herne will become impatient."
Upon this Mabel rose, and, without daring to cast a look towards the spot where Wyat was concealed, quitted the cell with them. No sooner were they all out, than Fenwolf, hastily shutting the door, turned the key in the lock, and taking it out, exclaimed, "So we have secured you, Sir Thomas Wyat. No fear of your revealing the secret of the cave now, or flying with Mabel—ha! ha!" to here.
In what manner Herne declared his Passion for Mabel.
Utterly disregarding her cries and entreaties, Fenwolf dragged Mabel into the great cavern, and forced her to take a seat on a bench near the spot where a heap of ashes showed that the fire was ordinarily lighted. All this while, her grandfather had averted his face from her, as if fearing to meet her regards, and he now busied himself in striking a light and setting fire to a pile of fagots and small logs of wood.
"I thought you told me Herne was here," said Mabel in a tone of bitter reproach, to Fenwolf, who seated himself beside her on the bench.
"He will be here ere long," he replied sullenly.
"Oh, do not detain Sir Thomas Wyat!" cried Mabel piteously; "do not deliver him to your dread master! Do what you will with me—but let him go."
"I will tell you what I will do," replied Fenwolf, in a low tone; "I will set Sir Thomas at liberty, and run all risks of Herne's displeasure, if you will promise to be mine."
Mabel replied by a look of unutterable disgust.
"Then he will await Herne's coming where he is," rejoined Fenwolf.
Saying which he arose, and, pushing a table near the bench, took the remains of a huge venison pasty and a loaf from a hutch standing on one side of the cavern.
By this time Old Tristram, having succeeded in lighting the fire, placed himself at the farther end of the table, and fell to work upon the viands with Fenwolf. Mabel was pressed to partake of the repast, but she declined the offer. A large stone bottle was next produced and emptied of its contents by the pair, who seemed well contented with their regale.
Meanwhile Mabel was revolving the possibility of flight, and had more than once determined to make an attempt, but fear restrained her. Her grandsire, as has been stated, sedulously avoided her gaze, and turned a deaf ear to her complaints and entreaties. But once, when Fenwolf's back was turned, she caught him gazing at her with peculiar significance, and then comprehended the meaning of his strange conduct. He evidently only awaited an opportunity to assist her.
Satisfied of this, she became more tranquil, and about an hour having elapsed, during which nothing was said by the party, the low winding of a horn was heard, and Fenwolf started to his feet, exclaiming—
"It is Herne!"
The next moment the demon huntsman rode from one of the lateral passages into the cave. He was mounted on a wild-looking black horse, with flowing mane and tail, eyes glowing like carbuncles, and in all respects resembling the sable steed he had lost in the forest.
Springing to the ground, he exchanged a few words with Fenwolf in a low tone, and delivering his steed to him, with orders to take it to the stable, signed to Tristram to go with him, and approached Mabel.
"So you have seen Sir Thomas Wyat, I find," he said, in a stern tone.
Mabel made no answer, and did not even raise her eyes towards him.
"And he has told you he loves you, and has urged you to fly with him—ha?" pursued Herne.
Mabel still did not dare to look up, but a deep blush overspread her cheek.
"He was mad to venture hither," continued Herne; "but having done so, he must take the consequences."
"You will not destroy him?" cried Mabel imploringly.
"He will perish by a hand as terrible as mine," laughed Herne—"by that of famine. He will never quit the dungeon alive unless—"
"Unless what?" gasped Mabel.
"Unless he is leagued with me," replied Herne. "And now let him pass, for I would speak of myself. I have already told you that I love you, and am resolved to make you mine. You shudder, but wherefore? It is a glorious destiny to be the' bride of the wild hunter—the fiend who rules the forest, and who, in his broad domain, is more powerful than the king. The old forester, Robin Hood, had his maid Marian; and what was he compared to me? He had neither my skill nor my power. Be mine, and you shall accompany me on my midnight rides; shall watch the fleet stag dart over the moonlight glade, or down the lengthened vista. You shall feel all the unutterable excitement of the chase. You shall thread with me the tangled grove, swim the river and the lake, and enjoy a thousand pleasures hitherto unknown to you. Be mine, and I will make you mistress of all my secrets, and compel the band whom I will gather round me to pay you homage. Be mine, and you shall have power of life and death over them, as if you were absolute queen. And from me, whom all fear, and all obey, you shall have love and worship."
"And he would have taken her hand; but she recoiled from horror.
"Though I now inspire you with terror and aversion," pursued "the time will come when you will love me as passionately as I was beloved by one of whom you are the image."
And she is dead? "asked Mabel, with curiosity.
"Dead!" exclaimed Herne. "Thrice fifty years have flown since she dwelt upon earth. The acorn which was shed in the forest has grown into a lusty oak, while trees at that time in their pride have fallen and decayed away. Dead!—yes, she has passed from all memory save mine, where she will ever dwell. Generations of men have gone down to the grave since her time—a succession of kings have lodged within the castle but I am still a denizen of the forest. For crimes I then committed I am doomed to wander within it, and I shall haunt it, unless released, till the crack of doom."
"Liberate me!" cried Mabel; "liberate your other prisoner and we will pray for your release."
"No more of this!" cried Herne fiercely. "If you would not call down instant and terrible punishment on your head—punishment that I cannot avert, and must inflict—you will mention nothing sacred in my hearing, and never allude to prayer, I am beyond the reach of salvation."
"Oh, say not so!" cried Mabel, in a tone of commiseration. "I will tell you how my doom was accomplished," rejoined Herne wildly. "To gain her of whom I have just spoken, and who was already vowed to Heaven, I invoked the powers of darkness. I proffered my soul to the Evil One if he would secure her to me, and the condition demanded by him was that I should become what I am—the fiend of the forest, with power to terrify and to tempt, and with other more fearful and fatal powers besides."
"Oh!" exclaimed Mabel.
"I grasped at the offer," pursued Herne. "She I loved became mine. But she was speedily snatched from me by death, and since then I have known no human passion except hatred and revenge. I have dwelt in this forest, sometimes alone, sometimes at the head of a numerous band, but always exerting a baneful influence over mankind. At last, I saw the image of her I loved again appear before me, and the old passion was revived within my breast. Chance has thrown you in my way, and mine you shall be, Mabel."
"I will die rather," she replied, with a shudder.
"You cannot escape me," rejoined He me, with a triumphant laugh; "you cannot avoid your fate. But I want not to deal harshly with you. I love you, and would win you rather by persuasion than by force. Consent to be mine, then, and I give Wyat his life and liberty."
"I cannot—I cannot!" she replied.
"Not only do I offer you Wyat's life as the price of your compliance," persevered Herne; "but you shall have what ever else you may seek—jewels, ornaments, costly attire, treasure—for of such I possess a goodly store."
"And of what use would they be to me here?" said Mabel.
"I will not always confine you to this cave," replied Herne. "You shall go where you please, and live as you please, but you must come to me whenever I summon you."
"And what of my grandsire?" she demanded.
"Tristram Lyndwood is no relative of yours," replied Herne. "I will now clear up the mystery that hangs over your birth. You are the offspring of one who for years has exercised greater sway than the king within this realm, but who is now disgraced and ruined, and nigh his end. His priestly vows forbid him to own you, even if he desired to do so."
"Have I seen him?" demanded Mabel.
"You have," replied Herne; "and he has seen you—and little did he know when he sought you out, that he was essaying to maintain his own power, and overturn that of another, by the dishonour of his daughter—though if he had done so," he added, with a scoffing laugh, "it might not have restrained him."
"I know whom you mean," said Mabel. "And is it possible he can be my father?"
"It is as I have told you," replied Herne. "You now know my resolve. To-morrow at midnight our nuptials shall take place."
"Nuptials!" echoed Mabel.
"Ay, at that altar," he cried, pointing to the Druid pile of stones; "there you shall vow yourself to me and I to you, before terrible witnesses. I shall have no fear that you will break your oath. Reflect upon what I have said."
With this he placed the bugle to his lips, blew a low call upon it, and Fenwolf and Tristram immediately answering the summons, he whispered some instructions to the former, and disappeared down one of the side passages.
Fenwolf's, deportment was now more sullen than before. In vain did Mabel inquire from him what Herne was about to do with Sir Thomas Wyat. He returned no answer, and at last, wearied by her importunity, desired her to hold her peace. Just then, Tristram quitted the cavern for a moment, when he instantly changed his manner, and 'said to her quickly, "I overheard what passed between you and Herne. Consent to be mine, and I will deliver you from him."
"That were to exchange one evil for another," she replied, "If you would serve me, deliver Sir Thomas Wyat."
"I will only deliver him on the terms I have mentioned," replied Fenwolf.
At this moment, Tristram returned, and the conversation ceased.
Fresh logs were then thrown on the fire by Fenwolf, and, at his request, Tristram proceeded to a hole in the rock, which served as a sort of larder, and brought from it some pieces of venison, which were broiled upon the embers.
At the close of the repast, of which she sparingly partook, Mabel was conducted by Morgan Fenwolf into a small chamber opening out of the great cavern, which was furnished like the cell she had lately occupied, with a small straw pallet. Leaving her a lamp, Fenwolf locked the door, and placed the key in his girdle.
How Sir Thomas Wyat was visited by Herne in the Cell.
Made aware by the clangour of the lock, and Fenwolf's exulting laughter, of the snare in which he had been caught, Sir Thomas Wyat instantly sprang from his hiding-place, and rushed to the door; but being framed of the stoutest oak, and strengthened with plates of iron, it defied all his efforts, nerved as they were by rage and despair, to burst it open. Mabel's shrieks, as she was dragged away, reached his ears, and increased his anguish; and he called out loudly to her companions to return, but his vociferations were only treated with derision.
Finding it useless to struggle further, Wyat threw himself upon the bench, and endeavoured to discover some means of deliverance from his present hazardous position. He glanced round the cell to see whether there was any other outlet than the doorway, but he could discern none, except a narrow grated loophole opening upon the passage, and contrived, doubtless, for the admission of air to the chamber. No dungeon could be more secure.
Raising the lamp, he examined every crevice, but all seemed solid stone. The recess in which he had taken shelter proved to be a mere hollow in the wall. In one corner lay a small straw pallet, which, no doubt, had formed the couch of Mabel; and this, together with the stone bench and rude table of the same material, constituted the sole furniture of the place.
Having taken this careful survey of the cell, Wyat again sat down upon the bench with the conviction that escape was out of the question; and he therefore endeavoured to prepare himself for the worst, for it was more than probable he would be allowed to perish of starvation. To a fiery nature like his, the dreadful uncertainty in which he was placed was more difficult of endurance than bodily torture. And he was destined to endure it long. Many hours flew by, during which nothing occurred to relieve the terrible monotony of his situation. At length, in spite of his anxiety, slumber stole upon him unawares; but it was filled with frightful visions.
How long he slept he knew not, but when he awoke, he found that the cell must have been visited in the interval, for there was a manchet of bread, part of a cold neck of venison, and a flask of wine on the table. It was evident, therefore, that his captors did not mean to starve him, and yielding to the promptings of appetite, he attacked the provisions, determined to keep strict watch when his gaoler should next visit him.
The repast finished, he again examined the cell, but with no better success than before; and he felt almost certain, from the position in which the bench was placed, that the visitor had not found entrance through the door.
After another long and dreary interval, finding that sleep was stealing upon him fast, he placed the bench near the door, and leaned his back against the latter, certain that in this position he should be awakened if any one attempted to gain admittance in that way. His slumber was again disturbed by fearful dreams; and he was at length aroused by a touch upon the shoulder, while a deep voice shouted his own name in her ears.
Starting to his feet, and scarcely able to separate the reality from the hideous phantasms that had troubled him, he found that the door was still fastened, and the bench unremoved, while before him stood Herne the Hunter.
"Welcome again to my cave, Sir Thomas Wyat!" cried the demon, with a mocking laugh. "I told you, on the night of the attempt upon the king, that though you escaped him, you would not escape me. And so it has come to pass. You are now wholly in my power, body and soul—ha! ha!"
"I defy you, false fiend," replied Wyat. "I was mad enough to proffer you my soul on certain conditions; but they have never been fulfilled."
"They may yet be so," rejoined Herne.
"No," replied Wyat, "I have purged my heart from the fierce and unhallowed passion that swayed it. I desire no assistance from you."
"If you have changed your mind, that is nought to me," rejoined the demon derisively—"I shall hold you to your compact."
"Again I say I renounce you, infernal spirit!" cried Wyat; "you may destroy my body—but you can work no mischief to my soul."
"You alarm yourself without reason, good Sir Thomas," replied Herne, in a slightly sneering tone. "I am not the malignant being you suppose me; neither am I bent upon fighting the battles of the enemy of mankind against Heaven. I may be leagued with the powers of darkness, but I have no wish to aid them; and I therefore leave you to take care of your soul in your own way. What I desire from you is your service while living. Now listen to the conditions I have to propose. You must bind yourself by a terrible oath, the slightest infraction of which shall involve the perdition of the soul you are so solicitous to preserve, not to disclose aught you may see, or that may be imparted to you here. You must also swear implicit obedience to me in all things—to execute any secret commissions, of whatever nature, I may give you—to bring associates to my band—and to join me in any enterprise I may propose. This oath taken, you are free. Refuse it, and I leave you to perish."
"I do refuse it," replied Wyat boldly. "I would die a thousand deaths rather than so bind myself. Neither do I fear being left to perish here. You shall not quit this cell without me."
"You are a stout soldier, Sir Thomas Wyat," rejoined the demon, with a scornful laugh; "but you are scarcely a match for Herne the Hunter, as you will find, if you are rash enough to make the experiment. Beware!" he exclaimed, in a voice of thunder, observing the knight lay his hand upon his sword, "I am invulnerable, and you will, therefore, vainly strike at me. Do not compel me to use the dread means, which I could instantly employ, to subject you to my will. I mean you well, and would rather serve than injure you. But I will not let you go, unless you league yourself with me. Swear, therefore, obedience to me, and depart hence to your friends, Surrey and Richmond, and tell them you have failed to find me."
"You know, then, of our meeting?" exclaimed Wyat.
"Perfectly well," laughed Herne. "It is now eventide, and at midnight the meeting will take place in the forester's hut. If you attend it not, I will. They will be my prisoners as well as you. To preserve yourself and save them, you must join me."
"Before I return an answer," said Wyat, "I must know what has become of Mabel Lyndwood."
"Mabel Lyndwood is nought to you, Sir Thomas," rejoined Herne coldly.
"She is so much to me that I will run a risk for her which I would not run for myself," replied Wyat. "If I promise obedience to you, will you liberate her? will you let her depart with me?"
"No," said Herne peremptorily. "Banish all thoughts of her from your breast. You will never behold her again. I will give you time for reflection on my proposal. An hour before midnight I shall return, and if I find you in the same mind, I abandon you to your fate."
And with these words he stepped back towards the lower end of the cell. Wyat instantly sprang after him, but before he could reach him a flash of fire caused him to recoil, and to his horror and amazement, he beheld the rock open, and yield a passage to the retreating figure.
When the sulphureous smoke, with which the little cell was filled, had in some degree cleared off, Wyat examined the sides of the rock, but could not find the slightest trace of a secret outlet, and therefore concluded that the disappearance of the demon had been effected by magic.
How Mabel escaped from the Cave with Sir Thomas Wyat.
The next day Mabel was set at liberty by her gaoler, and the hours flew by without the opportunity of escape, for which she sighed, occurring to her. As night drew on, she became more anxious, and at last expressed a wish to retire to her cell. When about to fasten the door, Fenwolf found that the lock had got strained, and the bolts would not move, and he was therefore obliged to content himself with placing a bench against it, on which he took a seat.
About an hour after Mabel's retirement, old Tristram offered to relieve guard with Fenwolf, but this the other positively declined, and leaning against the door, disposed himself to slumber. Tristram then threw himself on the floor, and in a short time all seemed buried in repose.
By-and-by, however, when Fenwolf's heavy breathing gave token of the soundness of his sleep, Tristram raised himself upon his elbow, and gazed round. The lamp placed upon the table imperfectly illumined the cavern, for the fire which had been lighted to cook the evening meal had gone out completely. Getting up cautiously, and drawing his hunting-knife, the old man crept towards Fenwolf, apparently with the intent of stabbing him, but he suddenly changed his resolution, and dropped his arm.
At that moment, as if preternaturally warned, Fenwolf opened his eyes, and seeing the old forester standing by, sprang upon him, and seized him by the throat.
"Ah traitor!" he exclaimed; "what are you about to do?"
"I am no traitor," replied the old man. "I heard a noise in the passage leading to Wyat's cell, and was about to rouse you, when you awakened of your own accord, probably disturbed by the noise."
"It may be," replied Fenwolf, satisfied with the excuse, and relinquishing his grasp. "I fancied I heard something in my dreams. But come with me to Wyat's cell. I will not leave you here."
And snatching up the lamp, he hurried with Tristram into the passage. They were scarcely gone, when the door of the cell was opened by Mabel, who had overheard what had passed; and so hurriedly did she issue forth that she over-turned the bench, which fell to the ground with a considerable clatter. She had only just time to replace it, and to conceal herself in an adjoining passage, when Fenwolf rushed back into the cavern.
"It was a false alarm," he cried. "I saw Sir Thomas Wyat in his cell through the loop-hole, and I have brought the key away with me. But I am sure I heard a noise here."
"It must have been mere fancy," said Tristram. "All is as we left it."
"It seems so, certes," replied Fenwolf doubtfully. "But I will make sure."
While he placed his ear to the door, Mabel gave a signal to Tristram that she was safe. Persuaded that he heard some sound in the chamber, Fenwolf nodded to Tristram that all was right, and resumed his seat.
In less than ten minutes he was again asleep. Mabel then emerged from her concealment, and cautiously approached Tristram, who feigned, also, to slumber. As she approached him, he rose noiselessly to his feet.
"The plan has succeeded," he said in a low tone. "It was I who spoiled the lock. But come with me. I will lead you out of the cavern."
"Not without Sir Thomas Wyat," she replied; "I will not leave him here."
"You will only expose yourself to risk, and fail to deliver him," rejoined Tristram. "Fenwolf has the key of his cell. Nay, if you are determined upon it, I will not hinder you. But you must find your own way out, for I shall not assist Sir Thomas Wyat."
Motioning him to silence, Mabel crept slowly, and on the points of her feet, towards Fenwolf.
The key was in his girdle. Leaning over him, she suddenly and dexterously plucked it forth.
At the very moment she possessed herself of it, Fenwolf stirred, and she dived down, and concealed herself beneath the table. Fenwolf, who had been only slightly disturbed, looked up, and seeing Tristram in his former position, which he had resumed when Mabel commenced her task, again disposed himself to slumber.
Waiting till she was assured of the soundness of his repose, Mabel crept from under the table, signed to Tristram to remain where he was, and glided with swift and noiseless footsteps down the passage leading to the cell.
In a moment, she was at the door—the key was in the lock—and she stood before Sir Thomas Wyat.
A few words sufficed to explain to the astonished knight how she came there, and comprehending that not a moment was to be lost, he followed her forth.
In the passage, they held a brief consultation together in a low tone, as to the best means of escape, for they deemed it useless to apply to Tristram. The outlet with which Sir Thomas Wyat was acquainted lay on the other side of the cavern; nor did he know how to discover the particular passage leading to it.
As to Mabel, she could offer no information, but she knew that the stable lay in an adjoining passage.
Recollecting, from former experience, how well the steeds were trained, Sir Thomas Wyat eagerly caught at the suggestion, and Mabel led him farther down the passage, and striking off through an opening on the left, brought him, after a few turns, to a large chamber, in which two or three black horses were kept.
Loosening one of them, Wyat placed a bridle on his neck, sprang upon his back, and took up Mabel beside him. He then struck his heels against the sides of the animal, who needed no further incitement to dash along the passage, and in a few seconds brought them into the cavern.
The trampling of the horse wakened Fenwolf, who started to his feet, and ran after them, shouting furiously. But he was too late. Goaded by Wyat's dagger, the steed dashed furiously on, and plunging with its double burden into the pool at the bottom of the cavern, disappeared.
Of the Desperate Resolution formed by Tristram and Fenwolf, and how the Train was laid.
Transported with rage at the escape of the fugitives, Fenwolf turned to old Tristram, and drawing his knife, threatened to make an end of him. But the old man, who was armed with a short hunting-sword, stood upon his defence, and they remained brandishing their weapons at each other for some minutes, but without striking a blow.
"Well, I leave you to Herne's vengeance," said Fenwolf, returning his knife to his belt. "You will pay dearly for allowing them to escape."
"I will take my chance," replied Tristram moodily: "my mind is made up to the worst. I will no longer serve this fiend."
"What! dare you break your oath?" cried Fenwolf. "Remember the terrible consequences."
"I care not for them," replied Tristram. "Harkee, Fenwolf: I know you will not betray me, for you hate him as much as I do, and have as great a desire for revenge. I will rid the forest of this fell being."
"Would you could make good your words, old man!" cried Fenwolf. "I would give my life for vengeance upon him."
"I take the offer," said Tristram; "you shall have vengeance."
"But how?" cried the other. "I have proved that he is invulnerable and the prints of his hands are written in black characters upon my throat. If we could capture him, and deliver him to the king, we might purchase our own pardon."
"No, that can never be," said Tristram. "My plan is to destroy him."
"Well, let me hear it," said Fenwolf.
"Come with me, then," rejoined Tristram.
And taking up the lamp, he led the way down a narrow lateral passage. When about half-way down it, he stopped before a low door, cased with iron, which he opened, and showed that the recess was filled with large canvas bags.
"Why, this is the powder-magazine," said Fenwolf. "I can now guess how you mean to destroy Herne. I like the scheme well enough; but it cannot be executed without certain destruction to ourselves."
"I will take all the risk upon myself," said Tristram, "I only require your aid in the preparations. What I propose to do is this. There is powder enough in the magazine, not only to blow up the cave, but to set fire to all the wood surrounding it. It must be scattered among the dry brush-wood in a great circle round the cave, and connected by a train with this magazine. When Herne comes hack, I will fire the train."
"There is much hazard in the scheme, and I fear it will fail," replied Fenwolf, after a pause, "nevertheless, I will assist you."
"Then, let us go to work at once," said Tristram, "for we have no time to lose. Herne will be here before midnight, and I should like to have all ready for him."
Accordingly, they each shouldered a couple of the bags, and returning to the cavern, threaded a narrow passage, and emerged from the secret entrance in the grove.
While Fenwolf descended for a fresh supply of powder, Tristram commenced operations. Though autumn was now far advanced, there had been remarkably fine weather of late; the ground was thickly strewn with yellow leaves, the fern was brown and dry, and the brushwood crackled and broke as a passage was forced through it. The very trees were parched by the long-continued drought. Thus favoured in his design, Tristram scattered the contents of one of the bags in a thick line among the fern and brushwood, depositing here and there among the roots of a tree, several pounds of powder, and covering the heaps over with dried sticks and leaves.
While he was thus employed, Fenwolf appeared with two more bags of powder, and descended again for a fresh supply. When he returned, laden as before, the old forester had already described a large portion of the circle he intended to take.
Judging that there was now powder sufficient, Tristram explained to his companion how to proceed; and the other commenced laying a train on the left of the secret entrance, carefully observing the instructions given him. In less than an hour, they met together at a particular tree, and the formidable circle was complete.
"So far, well!" said Tristram, emptying the contents of his bag beneath the tree, and covering it with leaves and sticks, as before; "and now to connect this with the cavern."
With this, he opened another bag, and drew a wide train towards the centre of the space. At length, he paused at the foot of a large hollow tree.
"I have ascertained," he said, "that this tree stands immediately over the magazine; and by following this rabbit's burrow, I have contrived to make a small entrance into it. A hollow reed introduced through the hole, and filled with powder, will be sure to reach the store below."
"An excellent ideal," replied Fenwolf. "I will fetch one instantly."
And starting off to the side of the lake, he presently returned with several long reeds, one of which was selected by Tristram and thrust into the burrow. It proved of the precise length required; and as soon as it touched the bottom, it was carefully filled with powder from a horn. Having connected this tube with the side train, and scattered powder for several yards around, so as to secure instantaneous ignition, Tristram pronounced that the train was complete.
"We have now laid a trap from which Herne will scarcely escape," he observed, with a moody laugh, to Fenwolf.
They then prepared to return to the cave, but had not proceeded many yards, when Herne, mounted on his sable steed, burst through the trees.
"Ah! what make you here?" he cried, instantly checking his career. "I bade you keep a strict watch over Mabel. Where is she?"
"She has escaped with Sir Thomas Wyat," replied Fenwolf, "and we have been in search of them."
"Escaped!" exclaimed Herne, springing from his steed, and rushing up to him; "dogs! you have played me false. But your lives shall pay the penalty of your perfidy."
"We had no hand in it whatever," replied Fenwolf doggedly. "She contrived to get out of a chamber in which I placed her, and to liberate Sir Thomas Wyat. They then procured a steed from the stable, and plunged through the pool into the lake."
"Hell's malison upon them, and upon you both!" cried Herne. "But you shall pay dearly for your heedlessness,—if, indeed, it has not been something worse. How long have they been gone?"
"It may be two hours," replied Fenwolf.
"Go to the cave," cried Herne, "and await my return there; and if I recover not the prize, woe betide you both!"
And with these words, he vaunted upon his steed and disappeared.
"And woe betide you too, false fiend!" cried Fenwolf. "When you come back you shall meet with a welcome you little expect. Would we had fired the train, Tristram, even though we had perished with him!"
"It will be time enough to fire it on his return," replied the old forester; "it is but postponing our vengeance for a short time. And now to fix our positions. I will take my station in yon brake."
"And I in that hollow tree," said Fenwolf. "Whoever first beholds him shall fire the train."
"Agreed!" replied Tristram. "Let us now descend to the cave and see that all is right in the magazine, and then we will return and hold ourselves in readiness for action."
How the Train was fired, and what followed the Explosion.
About ten o'clock in the night under consideration, Surrey and Richmond, accompanied by the Duke of Shoreditch, and half a dozen other archers, set out from the castle, and took their way along the great park, in the direction of the lake.
They had not ridden far, when they were overtaken by two horsemen who, as far as they could be discerned in that doubtful light, appeared stalwart personages, and well mounted, though plainly attired. The new-comers very unceremoniously joined them.
"There are ill reports of the park, my masters," said the foremost of these persons to Surrey, "and we would willingly ride with you across it."
"But our way may not be yours, friend," replied Surrey, who did not altogether relish this proposal. "We are not going farther than the lake."
"Our road lies in that direction," replied the other, "and, if you please, we will bear you company as far as we go. Come, tell me frankly," he added, after a pause, "are you not in search of Herne the Hunter?"
"Why do you ask, friend?" rejoined the earl somewhat angrily.
"Because if so," replied the other, "I shall be right glad to join you, and so will my friend, Tony Cryspyn, who is close behind me. I have an old grudge to settle with this Herne, who has more than once attacked me, and I shall be glad to pay it."
"If you will take my advice, Hugh Dacre, you will ride on, and leave the achievement of the adventure to these young galliards," interposed Cryspyn.
"Nay, by the mass! that shall never be," rejoined Dacre, "if they have no objection to our joining them. If they have, they have only to say so, and we will go on."
"I will be plain with you, my masters," said Surrey. "We are determined this night, as you have rightly conjectured, to seek out Herne the Hunter; and we hope to obtain such clue to him as will ensure his capture. If, therefore, you are anxious to join us, we shall be glad of your aid. But you must be content to follow, and not lead—and to act as you are directed—or you will only be in the way, and we would rather dispense with your company."
"We are content with the terms—are we not, Tony?" said Dacre.
His companion answered somewhat sullenly in the affirmative.
"And now that the matter is arranged, may I ask when you propose to go?" he continued.
"We are on our way to a hut on the lake, where we expect a companion to join us," replied Surrey.
"What! Tristram Lyndwood's cottage?" demanded Dacre.
"Ay," replied the earl, "and we hope to recover his fair granddaughter from the power of the demon."
"Ha! say you so?" cried Dacre; "that were a feat, indeed!"
The two strangers then rode apart for a few moments, and conversed together in a low tone, during which Richmond expressed his doubts of them to Surrey, adding that he was determined to get rid of them.
The new-comers, however, were not easily shaken off. As soon as they perceived the duke's design, they stuck more pertinaciously to him and the earl than before, and made it evident they would not be dismissed.
By this time they had passed Spring Hill, and were within a mile of the valley in which lay the marsh, when a cry for help was heard in the thicket on the left, and the troop immediately halted. The cry was repeated, and Surrey, bidding the others follow him, dashed off in the direction of the sound.
Presently, they perceived two figures beneath the trees, whom they found, on a nearer approach, were Sir Thomas Wyat, with Mabel in a state of insensibility in his arms.
Dismounting by the side of his friend, Surrey hastily demanded how he came there, and what had happened?
"It is too long a story to relate now," said Wyat; "but the sum of it is, that I have escaped, by the aid of this damsel, from the clutches of the demon. Our escape was effected on horseback, and we had to plunge into the lake. The immersion deprived my fair preserver of sensibility, so that as soon as I landed, and gained a covert where I fancied myself secure, I dismounted, and tried to restore her. While I was thus occupied, the steed I had brought with me broke his bridle, and darted off into the woods. After a while, Mabel opened her eyes, but she was so weak that she could not move, and I was fain to make her a couch in the fern, in the hope that she would speedily revive. But the fright and suffering had been too much for her, and a succession of fainting-fits followed, during which I thought she would expire. This is all. Now, let us prepare a litter for her, and convey her where proper assistance can be rendered."
Meanwhile, the others had come up, and Hugh Dacre, flinging himself from his horse, and pushing Surrey somewhat rudely aside, advanced towards Mabel, and, taking her hand, said, in a voice of some emotion, "Alas! poor girl! I did not expect to meet thee again in this state."
"You knew her, then?" said Surrey.
Dacre muttered an affirmative.
"Who is this man?" asked Wyat of the earl.
"I know him not," answered Surrey. "He joined us on the road hither."
"I am well known to Sir Thomas Wyat," replied Dacre, in a significant tone, "as he will avouch when I recall certain matters to his mind. But do not let us lose time here. This damsel claims our first attention. She must be conveyed to a place of safety, and where she can be well tended. We can then return to search for Herne."
Upon this, a litter of branches were speedily made, and Mabel being laid upon it, the simple conveyance was sustained by four of the archers. The little cavalcade then quitted the thicket, and began to retrace its course towards the castle. Wyat had been accommodated with a horse by one of the archers, and rode in a melancholy manner by the side of the litter.
They had got back nearly as far as the brow of Spring Hill, when a horseman, in a wild garb, and mounted on a coal black steed, lashed suddenly and at a furious pace, out of the trees on the right. He made towards the litter, over-turning Sir Thomas Wyat, and before any opposition could be offered him, seized the inanimate form of Mabel, and placing her before him on his steed, dashed off as swiftly as he came, and with a burst of loud, exulting laughter.
"It is Herne! it is Herne!" burst from every lip. And they all started in pursuit, urging the horses to their utmost speed. Sir Thomas Wyat had instantly remounted his steed, and he came up with the others.
Herne's triumphant and demoniacal laugh was heard as he scoured with the swiftness of the wind down the long glade. But the fiercest determination animated his pursuers, who, being all admirably mounted, managed to keep him fully in view.
Away! away! he speeded in the direction of the lake; and after him they thundered, straining every sinew in the desperate chase. It was a wild and extraordinary sight, and partook of the fantastical character of a dream.
At length Herne reached the acclivity, at the foot of which lay the waters of the lake glimmering in the starlight; and by the time he had descended to its foot, his pursuers had gained its brow.
The exertions made by Sir Thomas Wyat had brought him a little in advance of the others. Furiously goading his horse, he dashed down the hillside at a terrific pace.
All at once, as he kept his eye on the flying figure of the demon, he was startled by a sudden burst of flame in the valley. A wide circle of light was rapidly described, a rumbling sound was heard like that preceding an earth-quake, and a tremendous explosion followed, hurling trees and fragments of rock into the air.
Astounded at the extraordinary occurrence, and not knowing what might ensue, the pursuers reined in their steeds. But the terror of the scene was not yet over. The whole of the brushwood had caught fire, and blazed up with the fury and swiftness of lighted flax. The flames caught the parched branches of the trees, and in a few seconds the whole grove was on fire.
The sight was awfully grand, for the wind, which was blowing strongly, swept the flames forward, so that they devoured all before them.
When the first flash was seen the demon had checked his steed and backed him, so that he had escaped without injury, and he stood at the edge of the flaming circle watching the progress of the devastating element; but at last, finding that his pursuers had taken heart and were approaching him, he bestirred himself, and rode round the blazing zone.
Having by this time recovered from their surprise, Wyat and Surrey dashed after him, and got so near him that they made sure of his capture. But at the very moment they expected to reach him, he turned his horse's head, and forced him to leap over the blazing boundary.
In vain the pursuers attempted to follow. Their horses refused to encounter the flames; while Wyat's steed, urged on by its frantic master, reared bolt upright, and dislodged him.
But the demon held on his way, apparently unscathed in the midst of the flames, casting a look of grim defiance at his pursuers. As he passed a tree, from which volumes of fire were bursting, the most appalling shrieks reached his ear, and he beheld Morgan Fenwolf emerging from a hole in the trunk. But without bestowing more than a glance upon his unfortunate follower, he dashed forward, and becoming involved in the wreaths of flame and smoke, was lost to sight.
Attracted by Fenwolf's cries, the beholders perceived him crawl out of the hole, and clamber into the upper part of the tree, where he roared to them most piteously for aid. But even if they had been disposed to render it, it was impossible to do so now; and after terrible and protracted suffering, the poor wretch, half stifled with smoke, and unable longer to maintain his hold of the branch to which he crept, fell into the flames beneath, and perished.
Attributing its outbreak to supernatural agency, the party gazed on in wonder at the fire, and rode round it as closely as their steeds would allow them. But though they tarried till the flames had abated, and little was left of the noble grove but a collection of charred and smoking stumps, nothing was seen of the fiend or of the hapless girl he had carried off. It served to confirm the notion of the supernatural origin of the fire, in that it was confined within the mystic circle, and did not extend farther into the woods.
At the time that the flames first burst forth, and revealed the countenances of the lookers—on, it was discovered that the self-styled Dacre and Cryspyn were no other than the king and the Duke of Suffolk.
"If this mysterious being is mortal, he must have perished now," observed Henry; "and if he is not, it is useless to seek for him further."
Day had begun to break as the party quitted the scene of devastation. The king and Suffolk, with the archers, returned to the castle; but Wyat, Surrey, and Richmond rode towards the lake, and proceeded along its banks in the direction of the forester's hut.
Their progress was suddenly arrested by the sound of lamentation, and they perceived, in a little bay overhung by trees, which screened it from the path, an old man kneeling beside the body of a female, which he had partly dragged out of the lake. It was Tristram Lyndwood, and the body was that of Mabel. Her tresses were dishevelled, and dripping with wet, as were her garments; and her features white as marble. The old man was weeping bitterly.
With Wyat, to dismount and grasp the cold hand of the hapless maiden was the work of a moment.
"She is dead!" he cried, in a despairing voice, removing the dank tresses from her brow, and imprinting a reverent kiss upon it. "Dead!—lost to me for ever!"
"I found her entangled among those water-weeds," said Tristram, in tones broken by emotion, "and had just dragged her to shore when you came up. As you hope to prosper, now and hereafter, give her a decent burial. For me all is over."
And, with a lamentable cry, he plunged into the lake, struck out to a short distance, and then sank to rise no more.
THUS ENDS THE FIFTH BOOK OF THE CHRONICLE OF WINDSOR CASTLE
BOOK VI. JANE SEYMOUR
Of Henry's Attachment to Jane Seymour.
ON the anniversary of Saint George, 1536, and exactly seven years from the opening of this chronicle, Henry assembled the knights-companions within Windsor Castle to hold the grand feast of the most noble Order of the Garter.
Many important events had occurred in the wide interval thus suffered to elapse. Wolsey had long since sunk under his reverses—for he never regained the royal favour after his dismissal—and had expired at Leicester Abbey, on the 26th November 1530.
But the sufferings of Catherine of Arragon were prolonged up to the commencement of the year under consideration. After the divorce and the elevation of Anne Boleyn to the throne in her stead, she withdrew to Kimbolten Castle, where she dwelt in the greatest retirement, under the style of the Princess Dowager. Finding her end approaching, she sent a humble message to the king, imploring him to allow her one last interview with her daughter, that she might bestow her blessing upon her; but the request was refused.
A touching letter, however, which she wrote to the king on her death-bed, moved him to tears; and having ejaculated a few expressions of his sense of her many noble qualities, he retired to his closet to indulge his grief in secret. Solemn obsequies were ordered to be performed at Windsor and Greenwich on the day of her interment, and the king and the whole of his retinue put on mourning for her.
With this arrangement Anne Boleyn cared not to comply. Though she had attained the summit of her ambition; though the divorce had been pronounced, and she was crowned queen; though she had given birth to a daughter—the Princess Elizabeth, afterwards the illustrious queen of that name two years before; and though she could have no reasonable apprehensions from her, the injured Catherine, during her lifetime, had always been an object of dread to her. She heard of her death with undisguised satisfaction, clapped her hands, exclaiming to her attendants, "Now I am indeed queen!" and put the crowning point to her unfeeling conduct by decorating herself and her dames in the gayest apparel on the day of the funeral.
Alas! she little knew that at that very moment the work of retribution commenced, and that the wrongs of the injured queen, whose memory she thus outraged, were soon to be terribly and bloodily avenged.
Other changes had likewise taken place, which may be here recorded. The Earl of Surrey had made the tour of France, Italy, and the Empire, and had fully kept his word, by proclaiming the supremacy of the Fair Geraldine's beauty at all tilts and tournaments, at which he constantly bore away the prize. But the greatest reward, and that which he hoped would crown his fidelity—the hand of his mistress—was not reserved for him.
At the expiration of three years, he returned home, polished by travel, and accounted one of the bravest and most accomplished cavaliers of the day. His reputation had preceded him, and he was received with marks of the highest distinction and favour by Henry, as well as by Anne Boleyn. But the king was still averse to the match, and forbade the Fair Geraldine to return to court.
Finding so much opposition on all sides, the earl was at last brought to assent to the wish of the Fair Geraldine, that their engagement should be broken off. In her letters, she assured him that her love had undergone no abatement—and never would do so—but that she felt they must give up all idea of an union.
These letters, probably the result of some manoeuvring on his own part, set on foot by the royal mandate, were warmly seconded by the Duke of Norfolk, and after many and long solicitations, he succeeded in wringing from his son a reluctant acquiescence to the arrangement.
The disappointment produced its natural consequences on the ardent temperament of the young earl, and completely chilled and blighted his feelings. He became moody and discontented; took little share in the amusement and pastimes going forward; and from being the blithest cavalier at court, became the saddest. The change in his demeanour did not escape the notice of Anne Boleyn, who easily divined the cause, and she essayed by raillery and other arts to wean him from his grief. But all was for some time of no avail. The earl continued inconsolable. At last, however, by the instrumentality of the queen and his father, he was contracted to the Lady Frances Vere, daughter of the Earl of Oxford, and was married to her in 1535.
Long before this the Duke of Richmond had been wedded to the Lady Mary Howard.
For some time previous to the present era of this chronicle, Anne Boleyn had observed a growing coolness towards her on the part of the king, and latterly it had become evident that his passion for her was fast subsiding, if indeed it had not altogether expired.
Though Anne had never truly loved her royal consort, and though at that very time she was secretly encouraging the regards of another, she felt troubled by this change, and watched all the king's movements with jealous anxiety, to ascertain if any one had supplanted her in his affections.
At length her vigilance was rewarded by discovering a rival in one of the loveliest of her dames, Jane Seymour. This fair creature, the daughter of Sir John Seymour, of Wolff Hall, in Wiltshire, and who was afterwards, it is almost needless to say, raised to as high a dignity as Anne Boleyn herself, was now in the very pride of her beauty. Tall, exquisitely proportioned, with a complexion of the utmost brilliancy and delicacy, large liquid blue eyes, bright chestnut tresses, and lovely features, she possessed charms that could not fall to captivate the amorous monarch. It seems marvellous that Anne Boleyn should have such an attendant; but perhaps she felt confident in her own attractions.
Skilled in intrigue herself, Anne, now that her eyes were opened, perceived all the allurements thrown out by Jane to ensnare the king, and she intercepted many a furtive glance between them. Still she did not dare to interfere. The fierceness of Henry's temper kept her in awe, and she knew well that the slightest opposition would only make him the more determined to run counter to her will. Trusting, therefore, to get rid of Jane Seymour by some stratagem, she resolved not to attempt to dismiss her, except as a last resource.
A slight incident occurred, which occasioned a departure from the prudent course she had laid down to herself.
Accompanied by her dames, she was traversing the great gallery of the palace at Greenwich, when she caught the reflection of Jane Seymour, who was following her, in a mirror, regarding a jewelled miniature. She instantly turned round at the sight, and Jane, in great confusion, thrust the picture into her bosom.
"Ah I what have you there?" cried Anne.
"A picture of my father, Sir John Seymour," replied Jane, blushing deeply.
"Let me look at it," cried Anne, snatching the picture from her. "Ah! call you this your father? To my thinking it is much more like my royal husband. Answer me frankly, minion—answer me, as you value your life! Did the king give you this?"
"I must decline answering the question," replied Jane, who by this time had recovered her composure.
"Ah! am I to be thus insolently treated by one of my own dames?" cried Anne.
"I intend no disrespect to your majesty," replied Jane, "and I will, since you insist upon it, freely confess that I received the portrait from the king. I did not conceive there could be any harm in doing so, because I saw your majesty present your own portrait, the other day, to Sir Henry Norris."
Anne Boleyn turned as pale as death, and Jane Seymour perceived that she had her in her power.
"I gave the portrait to Sir Henry as a recompense for an important service he rendered me," said Anne, after a slight pause.
"No doubt," replied Jane; "and I marvel not that he should press it so fervently to his lips, seeing he must value the gift highly. The king likewise bestowed his portrait upon me for rendering him a service."
"And what was that?" asked Anne.
"Nay, there your majesty must hold me excused," replied the other. "It were to betray his highness's confidence to declare it. I must refer you to him for explanation."
"Well, you are in the right to keep the secret," said Anne, forcing a laugh. "I dare say there is no harm in the portrait—indeed, I am sure there is not, if it was given with the same intent that mine was bestowed upon Norris. And so we will say no more upon the matter, except that I beg you to be discreet with the king. If others should comment upon your conduct, I may be compelled to dismiss you."
"Your majesty shall be obeyed," said Jane, with a look that intimated that the request had but slight weight with her.
"Catherine will be avenged by means of this woman," muttered Anne as she turned away. "I already feel some of the torments with which she threatened me. And she suspects Norris. I must impress more caution on him. Ah! when a man loves deeply, as he loves me, due restraint is seldom maintained."
But though alarmed, Anne was by no means aware of the critical position in which she stood. She could not persuade herself that she had entirely lost her influence with the king; and she thought that when his momentary passion had subsided, it would return to its old channels.
She was mistaken. Jane Seymour was absolute mistress of his heart; and Anne was now as great a bar to him as she had before been an attraction. Had her conduct been irreproachable, it might have been difficult to remove her; but, unfortunately, she had placed herself at his mercy, by yielding to the impulses of vanity, and secretly encouraging the passion of Sir Henry Norris, groom of the stole.
This favoured personage was somewhat above the middle Size, squarely and strongly built. His features were regularly and finely formed, and he had a ruddy complexion, brown curling hair, good teeth, and fine eyes of a clear blue. He possessed great personal strength, was expert in all manly exercises, and shone especially at the jousts and the manege. He was of an ardent temperament, and Anne Boleyn had inspired him with so desperate a passion that he set at nought the fearful risk he ran to obtain her favour.
In all this seemed traceable the hand of fate—in Henry's passion for Jane Seymour, and Anne's insane regard for Norris—as if in this way, and by the same means in which she herself had been wronged, the injured Catherine of Arragon was to be avenged.
How far Henry's suspicions of his consort's regard for Norris had been roused did not at the time appear. Whatever he felt in secret, he took care that no outward manifestation should betray him. On the contrary he loaded Norris, who had always been a favourite with him, with new marks of regard, and encouraged rather than interdicted his approach to the queen.
Things were in this state when the court proceeded to Windsor, as before related, on Saint George's day.
How Anne Boleyn received Proof of Henry's Passion for Jane Seymour.
On the day after the solemnisation of the Grand Feast of the Order of the Garter, a masqued fete of great splendour and magnificence was held within the castle. The whole of the state apartments were thrown open to the distinguished guests, and universal gaiety prevailed. No restraint was offered to the festivity by the king, for though he was known to be present, he did not choose to declare himself.
The queen sat apart on a fauteuil in the deep embrasure of a window; and as various companies of fantastic characters advanced towards her, she more than once fancied she detected amongst them the king, but the voices convinced her of her mistake. As the evening was wearing, a mask in a blue domino drew near her, and whispered in a devoted and familiar tone, "My queen!"
"Is it you, Norris?" demanded Anne, under her breath.
"It is," he replied. "Oh, madam! I have been gazing at you the whole evening, but have not dared to approach you till now."
"I am sorry you have addressed me at all, Norris," she rejoined. "Your regard for me has been noticed by others, and may reach the king's ears. You must promise never to address me in the language of passion again."
"If I may not utter my love I shall go mad," replied Norris. "After raising me to the verge of Paradise, do not thrust me to the depths of Tartarus."
"I have neither raised you nor do I cast you down," rejoined Anne. "That I am sensible of your devotion, and grateful for it, I admit, but nothing more. My love and allegiance are due to the king."
"True," replied Norris bitterly; "they are so, but he is wholly insensible to your merits. At this very moment he is pouring his love-vows in the ear of Jane Seymour."
"Ah! is he so?" cried Anne. "Let me have proof of his perfidy, and I may incline a more favourable ear to you."
"I will instantly obtain you the proof, madam," replied Norris, bowing and departing.
Scarcely had he quitted the queen, and mixed with the throng of dancers, than he felt a pressure upon his arm, and turning at the touch, beheld a tall monk, the lower part of whose face was muffled up, leaving only a pair of fierce black eyes and a large aquiline nose visible.
"I know what you want, Sir Henry Norris," said the tall monk in a low deep voice; "you wish to give the queen proof of her royal lord's inconstancy. It is easily done. Come with me."
"Who are you?" demanded Norris doubtfully.
"What matters it who I am?" rejoined the other; "I am one of the masquers, and chance to know what is passing around me. I do not inquire into your motives, and therefore you have no right to inquire into mine."
"It is not for my own satisfaction that I desire this proof," said Norris, "because I would rather shield the king's indiscretions than betray them. But the queen has conceived suspicions which she is determined to verify."
"Think not to impose upon me," replied the monk with a sneer. "Bring the queen this way, and she shall be fully satisfied."
"I can run no risk in trusting you," said Norris, "and therefore I accept your offer."
"Say no more," cried the monk disdainfully, "I will await you here."
And Norris returned to the queen.
"Have you discovered anything?" she cried.
"Come with me, madam," said Norris, bowing and taking her hand.
Proceeding thus they glided through the throng of dancers, who respectfully cleared a passage for them as they walked along until they approached the spot where the tall monk was standing. As they drew near him he moved on, and Norris and the queen followed in silence. Passing from the great hall in which the crowd of dancers were assembled, they descended a short flight of steps, at the foot of which the monk paused, and pointed with his right hand to a chamber, partly screened by the folds of a curtain.
At this intimation the queen and her companion stepped quickly on, and as she advanced, Anne Boleyn perceived Jane Seymour and the king seated on a couch within the apartment. Henry was habited like a pilgrim, but he had thrown down his hat, ornamented with the scallop-shell, his vizard, and his staff, and had just forced his fair companion to unmask.
At the sight, Anne was transfixed with jealous rage, and was for the moment almost unconscious of the presence of Norris, or of the monk, who remained behind the curtain, pointing to what was taking place.
"Your majesty is determined to expose my blushes," said Jane Seymour, slightly struggling with her royal lover.
"Nay, I only want to be satisfied that it is really yourself, sweetheart," cried Henry passionately. "It was in mercy to me, I suppose, that you insisted upon shrouding those beauteous features from my view.
"Hear you that, madam?" whispered Norris to Anne.
The queen answered by a convulsive clasp of the hand.
"Your majesty but jests with me," said Jane Seymour. "Jests!" cried Henry passionately. "By my faith! I never understood the power of beauty till now. No charms ever moved my heart like yours; nor shall I know a moment's peace till you become mine."
"I am grieved to hear it, my liege," replied Jane Seymour, "for I never can be yours, unless as your queen."
Again Norris hazarded a whisper to Anne Boleyn, which was answered by another nervous grasp of the hand.
"That is as much as to say," pursued Jane, seeing the gloomy reverie into which her royal lover was thrown, "I can give your majesty no hopes at all."
"You have been schooled by Anne Boleyn, sweetheart," said Henry.
"How so, my liege?" demanded Jane Seymour.
"Those are the very words she used to me when I wooed her, and which induced me to divorce Catherine of Arragon," replied Henry. "Now they may bring about her own removal."
"Just Heaven!" murmured Anne.
"I dare not listen to your majesty," said Jane Seymour, in a tremulous tone; "and yet, if I dared speak—"
"Speak on, fearlessly, sweetheart," said Henry.
"Then I am well assured," said Jane, "that the queen no longer loves you; nay, that she loves another."
"It is false, minion!" cried Anne Boleyn, rushing forward, while Norris hastily retreated, "it is false! It is you who would deceive the king for your own purposes. But I have fortunately been brought hither to prevent the injury you would do me. Oh, Henry! have I deserved this of you?"
"You have chanced to overhear part of a scene in a masquerade, madam—that is all," said the king.
"I have chanced to arrive most opportunely for myself," said Anne. "As for this slanderous and deceitful minion, I shall dismiss her from my service. If your majesty is determined to prove faithless to me, it shall not be with one of my own dames."
"Catherine of Arragon should have made that speech," retorted Jane Seymour bitterly. "She had reason to complain that she was supplanted by one much beneath her. And she never played the king falsely."
"Nor have I!" cried Anne fiercely. "If I had my will, I should strike thee dead for the insinuation. Henry, my lord—my love—if you have any regard for me, instantly dismiss Jane Seymour."
"It may not be, madam," replied Henry in a freezing tone; "she has done nothing to deserve dismissal. If any one is to blame in the matter, it is myself."
"And will you allow her to make these accusations against me without punishment?" cried Anne.
"Peace, madam!" cried the king sternly; "and thank my good-nature that I go no further into the matter. If you are weary of the masque, I pray you retire to your own apartments. For myself, I shall lead Jane Seymour to the bransle."
"And if your majesty should need a partner," said Jane, walking up to Anne and speaking in a low tone, "you will doubtless find Sir Henry Norris disengaged."
The queen looked as if stricken by a thunderbolt. She heard the triumphant laugh of her rival; she saw her led forth, all smiles and beauty and triumph, by the king to the dance, and she covered her face in agony. While she was in this state, a deep voice breathed in her ears, "The vengeance of Catherine of Arragon begins to work!"
Looking up, she beheld the tall figure of the monk retreating from the chamber.
What passed between Norris and the Tall Monk.
Tottering to the seat which Henry and Jane had just quitted, Anne sank into it. After a little time, having in some degree recovered her composure, she was about to return to the great hall, when Norris appeared.
"I did not deceive you, madam," he said, "when I told you the king was insensible to your charms; he only lives for Jane Seymour."
"Would I could dismiss her!" cried Anne furiously.
"If you were to do so, she would soon be replaced by another," rejoined Norris. "The king delights only in change. With him, the last face is ever the most beautiful."
"You speak fearful treason, sir!" replied Anne; "but I believe it to be the truth."
"Oh, then, madam!" pursued Norris, "since the king is so regardless of you, why trouble yourself about him? There are those who would sacrifice a thousand lives, if they possessed them, for your love."
"I fear it is the same with all men," rejoined Anne. "A woman's heart is a bauble which, when obtained, is speedily tossed aside."
"Your majesty judges our sex too harshly," said Norris. "If I had the same fortune as the king, I should never change."
"The king himself once thought so—once swore so," replied Anne petulantly. "It is the common parlance of lovers. But I may not listen to such discourse longer."
"Oh, madam!" cried Norris, "you misjudge me greatly. My heart is not made of the same stuff as that of the royal Henry. I can love deeply—devotedly—lastingly."
"Know you not that by these rash speeches you place your head in jeopardy?" said Anne.
"I would rather lose it than not be permitted to love you," he replied.
"But your rashness endangers me," said the queen. "Your passion has already been noticed by Jane Seymour, and the slightest further indiscretion will be fatal."
"Nay, if that be so," cried Norris, "and your majesty should be placed in peril on my account, I will banish myself from the court, and from your presence, whatever the effort cost me."
"No," replied Anne, "I will not tax you so hardly. I do not think," she added tenderly, "deserted as I am by the king, that I could spare you."
"You confess, then, that I have inspired you with some regard?" he cried rapturously.
"Do not indulge in these transports, Norris," said Anne mournfully. "Your passion will only lead to your destruction—perchance to mine. Let the certainty that I do love, content you, and seek not to tempt your fate further."
"Oh, madam! you make me the happiest of men by the avowal," he cried. "I envy not now the king, for I feel raised above him by your love."
"You must join the revel, Norris," said Anne; "your absence from it will be observed."
And extending her hand to him, he knelt down and pressed it passionately to his lips.
"Ah! we are observed," she cried suddenly, and almost with a shriek. "Rise, sir!"
Norris instantly sprang to his feet, and, to his inexpressible dismay, saw the figure of a tall monk gliding away. Throwing a meaning look at the almost sinking queen, he followed the mysterious observer into the great hall, determined to rid himself of him in some way before he should have time to make any revelations.
Avoiding the brilliant throng, the monk entered the adjoining corridor, and descending the great staircase, passed into the upper quadrangle. From thence he proceeded towards the cloisters near St. George's Chapel, where he was overtaken by Norris, who had followed him closely.
"What would you with me, Sir Henry Norris?" cried the monk, halting.
"You may guess," said Norris, sternly and drawing his sword. "There are secrets which are dangerous to the possessor. Unless you swear never to betray what you have seen and heard, you die."
The tall monk laughed derisively.
"You know that your life is in my power," he said, "and therefore you threaten mine. Well, e'en take it, if you can."
As he spoke, he drew a sword from beneath his robe, and stood upon his defence. After a few passes, Norris's weapon was beaten from his grasp.
"You are now completely at my mercy," said the monk, "and I have nothing to do but to call the guard, and declare all I have heard to the king."
"I would rather you plunged your sword into my heart," said Norris.
"There is one way—and only one—by which my secrecy may be purchased," said the monk.
"Name it," replied Norris. "Were it to be purchased by my soul's perdition, I would embrace it."
"You have hit the point exactly," rejoined the monk drily. "Can you not guess with whom you have to deal?"
"Partly," replied Norris "I never found such force in mortal arm as you have displayed."
"Probably not," laughed the other: "most of those who have ventured against me have found their match. But come with me into the park, and you shall learn the condition of my secrecy."
"I cannot quit the castle," replied Norris; "but I will take you to my lodgings, where we shall be wholly unobserved."
And crossing the lower ward, they proceeded to the tower on the south side of it, now appropriated to the governor of the alms knights.
About an hour after this Norris returned to the revel. His whole demeanour was altered, and his looks ghastly. He sought the queen, who had returned to the seat in the embrasure.
"What has happened?" said Anne, in a low tone, as he approached her. "Have you killed him?"
"No," he replied; "but I have purchased our safety at a terrible price."
"You alarm me, Norris; what mean you?" she cried. "I mean this," he answered, regarding her with passionate earnestness: "that you must love me now, for I have perilled my salvation for you. That tall monk was Herne the Hunter."
Of the Secret Interview between Norris and Anne Boleyn, and of the Dissimulation practised by the King.
Henry's attentions to Jane Seymour at the masqued fete were so marked, that the whole court was made aware of his passion. But it was not anticipated that any serious and extraordinary consequences would result from the intoxication—far less that the queen herself would be removed to make way for her successful rival. It was afterwards, however, remembered that at this time Henry held frequent, long, and grave conferences with the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk, and appeared to be engrossed in the meditation of some project.
After the scene at the revel, Anne did not make another exhibition of jealousy; but it was not that she was reconciled to her situation, or in any way free from uneasiness. On the contrary, the unhappy Catherine of Arragon did not suffer more in secret; but she knew, from experience, that with her royal consort all reproaches would be unavailing.
One morning, when she was alone within her chamber, her father, who was now Earl of Wiltshire, obtained admittance to her.
"You have a troubled look, my dear lord," she said, as she motioned him to a seat.
"And with good reason," he replied. "Oh, Anne! words cannot express my anxiety at the present state of things."
"It will speedily pass by, my lord," she replied; "the king will soon be tired of his new idol."
"Not before he has overthrown the old one, I fear," rejoined the earl. "Jane Seymour's charms have usurped entire sovereignty over him. With all her air of ingenuousness and simplicity, the minion is artful and dangerous She has a high mark, I am persuaded—no less than the throne."
"But Henry cannot wed her—he cannot divorce me," said Anne.
"So thought Catherine of Arragon," replied her father; "and yet she was divorced. Anne, I am convinced a plot is hatching against you."
"You do not fear for my life, father?" she cried, trembling.
"I trust there are no grounds for charges against you by which it might be brought in jeopardy," replied the earl gravely.
"None, father—none!" she exclaimed.
"I am glad of it," rejoined the earl; "for I have heard that the king said to one who suggested another divorce to him, 'No, if the queen comes within the scope of the divorce, she also comes within the pale of the scaffold.'"
"A pledge was extorted from him to that effect," said Anne, in a hollow voice.
"That an attempt will be made against you, I firmly believe," replied the earl; "but if you are wholly innocent you have nothing to fear."
"Oh, father! I know not that," cried Anne. "Innocence avails little with the stony-hearted Henry."
"It will prove your best safeguard," said the earl. "And now farewell, daughter! Heaven guard you! Keep the strictest watch upon yourself."
So saying, he quitted the apartment, and as soon as she was left alone, the unhappy Anne burst into an agony of tears.
From this state of affliction she was roused by hearing her own name pronounced in low accents, and looking up, she beheld Sir Henry Norris.
"Oh, Norris!" she said, in a tone of reproach, "you have come hither to destroy me."
"No one knows of my coming," he said; "at least, no one who will betray me. I was brought hither by one who will take care we are not observed."
"By Herne?" demanded Anne.
Norris answered in the affirmative.
"Would you had never leagued yourself with him!" she cried; "I fear the rash act will bring destruction upon us both."
"It is too late to retract now," he replied; "besides, there was no help for it. I sacrificed myself to preserve you."
"But will the sacrifice preserve me?" she cried. "I fear not. I have just been told that the king is preparing some terrible measure against me—that he meditates removing me, to make way for Jane Seymour."
"You have heard the truth, madam," replied Norris, "he will try to bring you to the block."
"And with him, to try is to achieve," said Anne. "Oh, Norris! it is a fearful thing to contemplate such a death!"
"But why contemplate it, madam?" said Norris; "why, if you are satisfied that the king has such designs against you—why, if you feel that he will succeed, tarry for the fatal blow? Fly with me—fly with one who loves you, and will devote his whole life to you—who regards you, not as the queen, but as Anne Boleyn. Relinquish this false and hollow grandeur, and fly with me to happiness and peace."
"And relinquish my throne to Jane Seymour?" rejoined Anne "Never! I feel that all you assert is true—that my present position is hazardous—that Jane Seymour is in the ascendant, while I am on the decline, if not wholly sunk—that you love me entirely, and would devote your life to me—still, with all these motives for dread, I cannot prevail upon myself voluntarily to give up my title, and to abandon my post to a rival."
"You do not love me, then, as I love you, Anne," said Norris. "If I were a king, I would abandon my throne for you."
"You think so now, Norris, because you are not king," she replied. "But I am queen, and will remain so, till I am forced to abandon my dignity."
"I understand, madam," rejoined Norris gloomily. "But oh I bethink you to what risks you expose yourself. You know the king's terrible determination—his vindictiveness, his ferocity."
"Full well," she replied—"full well; but I will rather die a queen than live disgrace and ruined. In wedding Henry the Eighth, I laid my account to certain risks, and those I must brave."
Before Norris could urge anything further, the door was suddenly opened, and a tall dark figure entered the chamber, and said hastily—"The king is at hand."
"One word more, and it is my last," said Norris to Anne. "Will you fly with me to-night?—all shall be ready."
"I cannot," replied Anne.
"Away!" cried Herne, dragging Norris forcibly behind the tapestry.
Scarcely had they disappeared when Henry entered the chamber. He was in a gayer mood than had been usual with him of late.
"I am come to tell you, madam," he said, "that I am about to hold jousts in the castle on the first of May, at which your good brother and mine, the Lord Rochford, will be the challenger, while I myself shall be the defendant. You will adjudge the prize."
"Why not make Jane Seymour queen of the jousts?" said Anne, unable to resist the remark.
"She will be present at them," said Henry, "but I have my own reasons," he added significantly, "for not wishing her to appear as queen on this occasion."
"Whatever may be your reasons, the wish is sufficient for me," said Anne. "Nay, will you tarry a moment with me? It is long since we have had any converse in private together."
"I am busy at this moment," replied Henry bluffly; "but what is it you would say to me?"
"I would only reproach you for some lack of tenderness, and much neglect," said Anne. "Oh, Henry! do you remember how you swore by your life—your crown—your faith—all that you held sacred or dear—that you would love me ever?"
"And so I would, if I could," replied the king; "but unfortunately the heart is not entirely under control. Have you yourself, for instance, experienced no change in your affections?"
"No," replied Anne. "I have certainly suffered severely from your too evident regard for Jane Seymour; but, though deeply mortified and distressed, I have never for a moment been shaken in my love for your majesty."
"A loyal and loving reply," said Henry. "I thought I had perceived some slight diminution in your regard."
"You did yourself grievous injustice by the supposition," replied Anne.
"I would fain believe so," said the king; "but there are some persons who would persuade me that you have not only lost your affection for me, but have even cast eyes of regard on another."
"Those who told you so lied!" cried Anne passionately. "Never woman was freer from such imputation than myself."
"Never woman was more consummate hypocrite," muttered Henry.
"You do not credit me, I see," cried Anne.
"If I did not, I should know how to act," replied the king. "You remember my pledge?"
"Full well," replied Anne; "and if love and duty would not restrain me, fear would."
"So I felt," rejoined the king; "but there are some of your sex upon whom nothing will operate as a warning—so faithless and inconstant are they by nature. It has been hinted to me that you are one of these; but I cannot think it. I can never believe that a woman for whom I have placed my very throne in jeopardy—for whom I have divorced my queen-whose family I have elevated and ennobled—and whom I have placed upon the throne would play me false. It is monstrous-incredible!"
"It is—it is!" replied Anne.
"And now farewell," said Henry. "I have stayed longer than I intended, and I should not have mentioned these accusations, which I regard as wholly groundless, unless you had reproached me."
And he quitted the chamber, leaving Anne in a strange state of perplexity and terror.
What happened at the Jousts.
The first of May arrived; and though destined to set in darkness and despair, it arose in sunshine and smiles.
All were astir at an early hour within the castle, and preparations were made for the approaching show. Lists were erected in the upper quadrangle, and the whole of the vast area was strewn with sand. In front of the royal lodgings was raised a gallery, the centre of which, being set apart for the queen and her dames, was covered with cloth of gold and crimson velvet, on which the royal arms were gorgeously emblazoned. The two wings were likewise richly decorated, and adorned with scutcheons and pennons, while from the battlements of the eastern side of the court were hung a couple of long flags.
As soon as these preparations were completed, a throng of pages, esquires, armourers, archers, and henchmen, entered it from the Norman gateway, and took up positions within the barriers, the space without the pales being kept by a double line of halberdiers. Next came the trumpeters, mounted on richly caparisoned horses, and having their clarions decorated with silken bandrols, fringed with gold. Stationing themselves at the principal entrance of the lists, they were speedily joined by the heralds, pursuivants, and other officers of the tilt-yard.
Presently afterwards, the Duke of Suffolk, who was appointed judge of the lists, appeared, and rode round the arena to see that all was in order. Apparently well satisfied with the survey, he dismounted, and proceeded to the gallery.
Meanwhile, the crowd within the court was increased by a great influx of the different members of the household, amongst whom were Shoreditch, Paddington, and Hector Cutbeard.
"Marry, this promises to be a splendid sight!" said the clerk of the kitchen; "the king will, no doubt, do his devoir gallantly for the sake of the bright eyes that will look upon him."
"You mean the queen's, of course?" said Shoreditch.
"I mean hers who may be queen," replied Cutbeard; "Mistress Jane Seymour."
"May be queen!" exclaimed Shoreditch. "You surely do not think the king will divorce his present consort?"
"Stranger things have happened," replied Cutbeard significantly. "If I am not greatly out of my reckoning," he added, "these are the last jousts Queen Anne will behold."
"The saints forefend!" cried Shoreditch; "what reason have you for thinking so?"
"That I may not declare," replied Cutbeard; "but before the jousts are over you will see whether I have been rightly informed or not."
"Hush!" exclaimed Shoreditch. "There is a tall monk eyeing us strangely; and I am not certain that he has not overheard what you have said."
"He is welcome to the intelligence," replied Cutbeard; "the end will prove its truth."
Though this was uttered in a confident tone, he nevertheless glanced with some misgiving at the monk, who stood behind Paddington. The object of the investigation was a very tall man, with a cowl drawn over his brow. He had a ragged black beard, fierce dark eyes, and a complexion like bronze. Seeing Cutboard's glance anxiously fixed upon him, he advanced towards him, and said in a low tone—"You have nothing to fear from me; but talk not so loud if you value your head."
"So saying he proceeded to another part of the lists.
"Who is that tall monk?" asked Paddington.
"Devil knows!" answered Cutbeard; "I never saw him before. But he has a villainous cut-throat look."
Soon afterwards a flourish of trumpets was heard, and amid their joyous bruit the queen, sumptuously arrayed in cloth of gold and ermine, and having a small crown upon her brow, entered the gallery, and took her seat within it. Never had she looked more beautiful than on this fatal morning, and in the eyes of all the beholders she completely eclipsed her rival, Jane Seymour. The latter, who stood on her right hard, and was exquisitely attired, had a thoughtful and anxious air, as if some grave matter weighed upon her.
While the queen's attendants were taking their places, Lord Rochford, accompanied by Sir Henry Norris and the Earls of Surrey and Essex, entered the lists. The four knights were completely armed, and mounted on powerful steeds barded with rich cloth of gold, embroidered with silver letters. Each had a great crimson plume in his helmet. They rode singly round the arena, and bowed as they passed the royal gallery, Norris bending almost to his saddle-bow while performing his salutation to the queen.
The field being thus taken by the challengers, who retired to the upper end of the court, a trumpet was thrice sounded by a herald, and an answer was immediately made by another herald stationed opposite Henry the Seventh's buildings. When the clamour ceased, the king fully armed, and followed by the Marquis of Dorset, Sir Thomas Wyat, and the Lord Clifford, rode into the lists.
Henry was equipped in a superb suit of armour, inlaid with gold, and having a breastplate of the globose form, then in vogue; his helmet was decorated with a large snow-white plume. The trappings of his steed were of crimson velvet, embroidered with the royal arms, and edged with great letters of massive gold bullion, full of pearls and precious stones. He was attended by a hundred gentlemen, armourers, and other officers, arrayed in white velvet.
Having ridden round the court like the others, and addressed his salutation exclusively to Jane Seymour, Henry took his station with his companions near the base of the Round Tower, the summit of which was covered with spectators, as were the towers and battlements around.
A trumpet was now sounded, and the king and the Lord Rochford having each taken a lance from his esquire, awaited the signal to start from the Duke of Suffolk, who was seated in the left wing of the royal gallery. It was not long delayed. As the clarion sounded clearly and loudly for the third time, he called out that the champions might go.
No sooner were the words uttered, than the thundering tramp of the steeds resounded, and the opponents met midway. Both their lances were shivered; but as the king did not, in the slightest degree, change his position, he was held to have the best of it. Courses were then run by the others, with varied success, the Marquis of Dorset being unhorsed by Sir Henry Norris, whose prowess was rewarded by the plaudits of the assemblage, and what was infinitely more dear to him, by the smiles of the queen.
"You have ridden well, Norris," cried Henry, advancing towards him. "Place yourself opposite me, and let us splinter a lance together."
As Norris reined back his steed, in compliance with the injunction, the tall monk stepped from out the line, and drawing near him, said, "If you wish to prove victorious, aim at the upper part of the king's helmet." And with these words he withdrew.